A GROUP of Conservative backbenchers has set out a blueprint for the renegotiation of Britain's membership of the European Union, warning that "the status quo is no longer an option".
Two days ahead of a major speech in the Netherlands in which Prime Minister David Cameron will set out his plans for a new settlement for the UK in Europe, the Fresh Start Project's Manifesto for Change urged him to focus his efforts on "a robust but achievable renegotiation of our terms of membership".
The manifesto demands five significant revisions to EU treaties including an "emergency brake" for all member states on financial services issues and repatriation of powers on social and employment law, or at least a UK opt-out and emergency brake in these areas.
It also calls for a UK opt-out from all policing and criminal justice measures, a new legal safeguard for the single market, and the abolition of the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament.
Foreign Secretary William Hague appeared to signal that the group's ideas chime with thinking on Europe at the top of the Conservative Party, hailing the manifesto in a foreword as a "well-researched and well-considered document full of powerful ideas for Britain's future in Europe".
"Many of the proposals are already Government policy, some could well become future Government or Conservative Party policy and some may require further thought," said Mr Hague, adding that it will be "essential reading" for those drawing up the Tory manifesto for the 2015 general election.
Mr Cameron is due to meet Conservative Cabinet members to brief them on the details of his long-awaited speech on Europe and is almost certain to face questions about its keenly anticipated contents at Prime Minister's Questions.
The Fresh Start Project, fronted by former Cameron aide George Eustice and other MPs including Andrea Leadsom, Tim Loughton and Chris Heaton-Harris, is said to have wide backing on the Tory backbenches, though the exact scale of support is not known.
Mr Cameron is expected to announce plans for a referendum on a new settlement with Brussels after the 2015 general election when he makes his Europe speech in the Netherlands on Friday.
He has rejected calls for an immediate in/out referendum on British membership, which he said would present voters with a "false choice". But he said it would be right to seek the "fresh consent" of the British people after negotiating a new settlement for the UK.
© Press Association 2013